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Academy of Distinguished Educators Chairperson Discusses Future Plans for the Academy

Dr. Miriam Robbins (left), clinical associate professor and associate chair of the Department of Oral and Maxillofacial Pathology, Radiology and Medicine, and chair of NYUCD's Academy of Distinguished Educators, was recently interviewed by Mr. William Eidtson (right), director of NYUCD Professional Development, about the mission, vision, and specific plans for the future of the Academy, which recently celebrated its second anniversary.

Mr. Eidtson: How do you define the mission of the Academy?

Dr. Robbins: The Academy's mission is to enhance overall teaching at NYUCD and to spur excitement among our faculty and encourage them to think outside the box. The words that Dean Bertolami used when he asked the founders to propose a plan for the Academy are very telling. He said that he envisioned the Academy as a think tank, a place where faculty could spread their wings and not be afraid to fail. It should be a place, he said, where people feel free to fail because learning from failure will ultimately improve the overall quality of teaching at the College. What a liberating message!

Mr. Eidtson: What role does the Academy play in the life of the College?

Dr. Robbins: The Academy exists to encourage excellence and to provide essential recognition of faculty accomplishments. This includes all faculty, clinical science as well as basic science faculty. Although excellence in teaching is central to the mission of educating tomorrow's healthcare providers, it is often undervalued and under-supported. The Academy strives to create an environment that enhances the status of health professions educators.

We do this by providing a forum for faculty to develop initiatives and learning strategies that will improve their pedagogical practices, their ability to develop learning materials, and their ability to mentor both fellow faculty and students.

Mr. Eidtson: I understand that during the Academy's first year, you were necessarily focused on structuring the Academy, creating bylaws, etc. What are your plans currently?

Dr. Robbins: The Academy is modeled on the highly successful Academies of Medical Educators at both Harvard University and the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF). To create a model for NYUCD that would aspire to the stature of those programs while reflecting the specific nature and character of NYUCD required substantial time. Now that we have an infrastructure, bylaws, committees, and additional members in place, the founding members have all begun to explore Academy-sponsored research projects that reflect their specific interests.

I am exploring alternative methods of teaching. One of the models I am testing is the "inverted classroom," which employs a wide variety of learning styles, including social media. Tony Vernillo is partnering with the Alden March Bioethics Institute to develop online certificate programs in bioethics. Mitch Lipp is developing patient-centered interactive e-learning modules that provide feedback and encouragement to predoctoral orthodontics students. Eric Baker is experimenting with peer instruction with students and developing digital learning modules for students in anatomy and other courses. And Marjan Moghadam is developing an electronic chairside "pocket guide" for clinical procedures.

Other Academy initiatives include a popular series of national and international speakers who are experts in their areas, including dentistry of course, but also in medicine, neuroscience, and pedagogy, to name a few. Also, the Academy has created the Clinical and Educational Scholarship Showcase, which provides a formal showcase for clinical scholarship. It is modeled on NYUCD's annual Research Day, which showcases student research. Our showcase offers an opportunity for clinical faculty to show what they are doing.

The Academy is also planning a new publication to debut this fall, the Journal of the Academy of Distinguished Educators, to be co-edited by Mary Northridge, assistant professor of epidemiology and health promotion and editor-in-chief of the American Journal of Public Health, and Elyse Bloom, assistant dean for communications and public affairs and editor of Global Health Nexus. It will be an online, peer-reviewed journal, which, in addition to giving our faculty an additional venue for publication, will seek to foster interdisciplinary and interprofessional collaboration by inviting experts from other institutions to provide their views on education writ large.

Mr. Eidtson: Where would you like to see the Academy in five years?

Dr. Robbins: I think that the Academy needs to be a continually evolving, dynamic organization whose ultimate goal is to have the entire faculty at the College as members. This brings me back to Charles's incredibly powerful and broad-minded statement that "if it doesn't work, it doesn't work. The important thing is to explore." Typically, faculty members are not encouraged to do things like that and I really think that it will motivate faculty to go where no one's gone before in seeking to improve teaching."